What makes Crete so popular?
The scope of services and convenient availability are keywords for Crete's popularity. Public transport takes tourists to cities and beach destinations at regular intervals. Taxi journeys are inexpensive compared to the price level in Finland, and Greek food is to the taste of Finnish tourists. The climate is warm from spring to autumn, and rainy days do not often surprise during the season. From the point of view of plant enthusiasts, Crete is a paradise on earth. The island is divided in the east-west direction by a mountain range of up to two kilometers, which divides Crete into a green north side and a drier south side. In addition to this, hundreds of gorges cut through the mountains in the north-south direction, which have created their own special microclimates for Crete over the millennia. Thanks to microclimates, many plant and animal species have survived natural upheavals, such as from the last ice age to the present day. There are nearly 200 indigenous plant species in Crete alone.
Crete also offers great camping and hiking terrains. One of the most popular routes is probably the 16 kilometer long Samaria gorge in the Lefka Ori mountains. The 11-kilometer hike in the Imbros gorge is also popular with hikers. You can go on a lighter hike, for example, to the ruins of a defensive castle from the Ottoman period on the Askifou plain.
Sights of Crete
Frangokastello. The small village of Frangokastello on the south coast of Crete has lovely little tavernas, good quiet beaches and the famous Frangokastello fortress from the 14th century. The journey to Frangokastello on the coast of the Libyan Sea is 55 km from Chania and 80 km from Rethymnon. On the way, you should also stop by the neighboring village of Chóra Sfakíon.
Elafonisi Beach. One of the most famous beaches in Crete is the bright pink Elafonisi. You can get to the beach by rental car, taxi or bus from the center of Chania.
Vai Beach. Crete's largest palm forest Vai Beach is a small piece of the Caribbean on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. There are guided day trips to the area in English.
Preveli's palm forest. The Caribbean atmosphere is also available closer to the cities of Chania and Rethymnon. A day trip to Preveli can be spent lounging on the beach and getting to know Preveli's spectacular Orthodox monastery.
Seitan Limani Beach. A 20-kilometer drive from Chania, on the Akrotiri peninsula lies a true sun worshiper's paradise, Seitan Limani. The access to the beach is along a steep path, so pack good shoes.
Palace of Knonnos. Minoan culture flourished in Crete during the Bronze Age around 3100–1100 BC. In the winding palace of Knossos, you can get to know the pre-Hellenic architecture and the life of the people of that time.
Samaria gorge. The Samaria gorge, representing the longest gorges in Europe, is the number one favorite hiking destination for tourists. The 16-kilometer hiking trips are organized mainly in English. Please ask the guide if there are tours in Finnish during your vacation.
Arkadi Monastery. 25 kilometers from the city of Rethymnon is the Orthodox Arkadi Monastery. Unesco has recognized the Arkadi Monastery as a European Freedom Monument, and today it is home to a community of seven monks who take care of the area.
The old town of Chania, the port area built by the Venetians, buildings from the Ottoman era and fascinating cobblestone alleys invite the traveler to breathe in architecture that is hundreds of years old. There are wonderful boutiques, taverns and museums around the old town of Chania, where there is enough to see for several days.
Balos. The lagoon of Balos, shimmering in turquoise tones, is a favorite destination for tourists. You should go to Balos by a cruise ship, which also stops at the pirate island of Gramvousa.
Fortétza Fortress. Rethymnon's most important landmark is the Fortétza Fortress built by the Venetians. The huge structure has functioned in history, among other things, as the center of Turkish administration. On a trip to the fortress, you should also stop by the Rethymnon Archaeological Museum.
Spinalónga. The island of Spinalónga, which served as a leper colony, is familiar to many from the book Saari written by Victoria Hislop. During the summer, boats carrying tourists leave for the island every hour from the villages of Eloúnta and Pláka.
Cemetery of German soldiers. In the village of Maleme, less than 20 kilometers from the center of Chania, there is a cemetery of German soldiers from the Second World War. 4,500 soldiers are buried in the area maintained by the German organization. Entrance to the cemetery, located on an impressive hill, is free of charge.
Allied Cemetery. In Soudanlahti, near Chania Airport, there is a cemetery of allied soldiers. The cemetery is on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in a quiet location and the area is easily accessible. Free entry.
For a beach holiday in Crete
Crete has more than 1000 kilometers of coastline. The long coastline can accommodate many types of bays and coves with sand and cobblestone streams. If you spend your vacation in the Hania area, the beaches with the finest sand and the most peaceful beaches in terms of number of visitors are located between the city of Hania and the resort village of Agia Marina. The small beaches of Agioi Apostoloi such as Paralia Agii Apostoli, Iguana Beach and Hrisi Akti are worth visiting and can be reached conveniently by local buses. There are wonderful little beach bars in the area, where you can buy, for example, Greek black iced coffee, freddo espresso, sweetened to suit your taste. A great choice for a scorching hot day at the beach!
The city of Rethymnon is bordered by one continuous 12-kilometer long beach, where the best services can be found at the western end of the beach. The sand in the area is fine and the water is mostly slowly deepening. When the northerly winds blow deeper in the water, currents may form, which you should watch out for when going on longer swimming trips.
When staying in Hersonissos, the best beach, the long and slowly deepening Stalis, is located about 5 kilometers from the resort. Hersonissos is a great full-service destination for golfing and relaxation. The village is sparsely populated and it is only 25 kilometers from the capital of Crete, Heraklion.
Several more distant beaches can be reached from the resorts by public transport, but some destinations have to be driven by a rental car. Please note that rental car insurance does not cover all damage to cars on gravel roads. For example, Balos beach can be reached by car, but if the car gets damaged while driving on a small road in poor condition, the insurance may not cover them. We recommend going to Balos lagoon from Kissamos harbor by boat. Ships run daily and tickets do not need to be booked in advance.
Getting around in Crete
Almost all attractions in Crete can be reached by rental car, taxi or public transport. If you are thinking about renting a car, there are also guided bus tours around Crete for every day of your vacation. Excursion buses go to the palace of Knossos, the pink beach of Elafonis, as well as for hikes along the bottom of the gorges.
Around big cities, the bus is a cheap and convenient option for getting around. In Hania, local and city bus stations are located close to each other on Kidonias-katu. In Rethymnon, the bus station is located on the beach, walking distance from the Fortétza fortress to the west. There are two bus stations in Heraklion. Buses going in the direction of Chania and Rethymnon depart from Leof. From Ikarou street, near the port of Heraklion.
Below are examples of the price level of taxis. Prices vary depending on the time of day. Not all taxis have taxi meters, so agree on the price of the upcoming trip when you leave.
Chania old town – Chania airport approx. 25 €
Chania's old town – Kato Daratso approx. 10 €
The old town of Hahia – Platanias approx. 17 €
All major cities in Crete have a wide selection of Greek and international clothing stores as well as smaller shops and markets. After shopping and the atmosphere, you should visit the traveling markets, whose selection includes, in addition to handicrafts, fresh vegetables, dried herbs, local cheeses and olives.
Handicrafts are available, from leather and linen products to lace handkerchiefs and natural sponges. You can buy postcards, magnets and beach clothes for the holiday at the souvenir stalls.
The largest department store Jumbo, which is especially popular with families with children, is an affordable and versatile shopping place. Jumbo is located 4 kilometers from the old town of Chania and can be easily reached by local bus from the holiday villages on the coast.
If you want to bring home Greek flavors, we recommend buying a bottle of retsína white wine flavored with Aleppon pine resin. Graviera goes well with wine-cheese, from which you can make wonderful saganaki fried in a pan at home. Cretans are especially proud of their twice-distilled pontic, tsikudia. The velvety soft tsikudi is suitable for serving, for example, with apple slices glazed with honey or orange cake, portokalopita.
Many miss the taste world of Greek salads after the holidays. The secret of the salads is high-quality cold-pressed olive oil combined with crisp apple cider vinegar. Mixtures of spices are also used in the salads, which can be bought from, for example, the shopping hall and the market. Good apple cider vinegars can be found in all grocery stores in Crete. Finding good apple cider vinegar in Finland is challenging.